Current Affairs History The Irish Language - An Ghaeilge

Righting A Wrong Simply Because It Is The Right Thing To Do

Binn Éadair, Cúige Laighean, Éire, Meitheamh 2012
Binn Éadair, Cúige Laighean, Éire, Meitheamh 2012 (Photo credit: AnSionnachFionn)

Two vastly contrasting stories that ultimately derive from the same history of invasion, occupation, annexation and colonisation. The first deals with the legacy of British rule in Ireland, a dark shadow that still hangs over too many young men and women on this island-nation. From the Irish Times:

“A little-known legacy of the Great Famine may be the exceptionally high levels of mental illness amongst later generations of Irish people, both at home and abroad, an Irish historian suggested last night.

Prof Oonagh Walsh told a Science Week event at IT Sligo she believed “epigenetic change” took place due to severe nutritional deprivation during the Famine, which claimed two million lives from 1845 to 1851.

While still in the early stages of a study into the subject, Prof Walsh believes research will show a connection between high rates of mental illnesses and the effect of maternal starvation. She also believes there may be a connection between the Famine and the prevalence among Irish people of cardiovascular and other diseases.

Speaking before last night’s lecture, Prof Walsh from Glasgow Caledonian University, pointed out that according to the 1841 census, when Ireland had a population of eight million, there were 1,600 inmates in district asylums, plus 1,500 in jails and workhouses.

By 1900, when the population had halved, there were 17,000 in district asylums and a further 8,000 “lunatics at large”.

She estimated that the impact of the epigenetic change following the Famine lasted for a century and a half.”

This is not the first time that academics have pointed to the devastating impact colonialism had on the cultural psyche of the Irish people and An Gorta Mór, the Great Famine, was perhaps the inevitable apotheosis of the centuries old struggle between those who resisted and those who invaded. But here is news of a necessary step for a nation interrupted, a salve to heal what was broken. From the Irish Independent newspaper:

“The demand for places at Irish language schools continues to surge, but Gaelscoileanna hope Education Minister Ruairi Quinn will shelve plans to change their admission policies.

The number of students taught through the language outside the Gaeltacht has trebled since 1990 and is set to top over 50,000 in the next five years.

In 1990, there were just 15,000 children in Irish language schools.

Now there are over 45,000 children who learn as Gaeilge, according to figures supplied to the Irish Independent.

The language is booming in the suburbs of Dublin and in commuter counties such as Kildare, according to the school patron body An Foras Pátrúnachta.

A second Gaelscoil has just opened in the Stepaside area of South Dublin to cope with soaring demand among a new generation of Gaeilgoirs. There is also a third school in nearby Ballinteer.

A new Gaelscoil in Lucan has had 223 applications for just 56 places in 2014.

Since 1990 the number of Irish medium schools has grown from 79 to 217.

One of the problems facing parents who send their children to Irish-speaking primary school is that there are fewer options at second-level.”

People talk about restoration as if it were some abstract thing. But in returning to the indigenous language of this nation, of the Irish people, we restore not just a language and a culture but right a great historical wrong. It is the ultimate act of restorative justice. In her much younger days Sinéad O’Connor popularised the scholarly view of Ireland’s post-colonial trauma when she wrote the lyrics to her song “Famine”:

“They gave us money not to teach our children Irish

And so we lost our history

And this is what I think is still hurting us

See we’re like a child that’s been battered

Has to drive itself out of its head because it’s frightened

Still feels all the painful feelings

But they lose contact with the memory

And this leads to massive self-destruction

Alcoholism, drug addiction

All desperate attempts at running

And in its worst form

Becomes actual killing

And if there ever is gonna be healing

There has to be remembering

And then grieving

So that there then can be forgiving

There has to be knowledge and understanding

An American army regulation

Says you mustn’t kill more than 10% of a nation

‘Cos to do so causes permanent “psychological damage”

I see the Irish

As a race like a child

That got itself bashed in the face”

Surely the time has now come to start the process of healing?

(With thank to An Lorcánach)

7 comments on “Righting A Wrong Simply Because It Is The Right Thing To Do

  1. Graham Ennis

    Amazing. So for 150 years, the famine caused mutant children as its legacy, as well as the crushing spcial and mental burden of being colonised. The famine has already been classified by experts as Genocide, now it seems that there were medical and physical consequences that may still, even now, be with us…….the horror, the horror…….this needs to be told to every Irish person, both in thee homeland, and in the expatriate community……..


  2. an lorcánach

    míle b. for that, sionnach: had seen the irish times piece online and wanted to add another reply to original posting on janis’ query about why most irish are ashamed to speak gaeilge in public – — — many would have the debate on the famine confined within academic historiography, but considering the post-northern ireland civil war peace-dividend in the 26-counties benefitted the middling classes predominately with free university education (along with subsidised private schooling) and these same stundents having mostly positive and progressive ambitions for the irish language itself, the very fact that these same irish graduates have now emigrated to the anglosphere proves ireland may never escape it’s history and that these themes are perhaps hereditary and recidivist! @


  3. Was struck by your headline. I first heard this phrase, “We are talking not only about rights here but about the right thing to do!” made by one of the Language Ombudsmen (a Canadian I think) at the first international conference held in Dublin! Another perhaps hopeful quote from the Irish representative was that “The last native speaker of Irish has not yet been born!” Details of the conference maybe found here:


  4. Pádraig Ó Déin

    This was a brillant read. A brilliant article! Words cannot describe how I feel right now. I know that sounds sappy, ach, is fíor sin!


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